As a follow up to last week’s edition of Straight Track, "How Much is My Case Worth?" we want to share with you a section of the United Transportation Union's pamphlet, How to Protect Your Rights When Injured on the Job (April 1996) that relates to this issue and to all crafts.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS WHEN INJURED ON THE JOB
THE LAW SAYS...
Cases of injuries to railroad workers are governed by a law passed by Congress called the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). Under this law you are not entitled to be paid by the railroad for your injury merely because you were injured on the job. In order to collect a claim there must be evidence that the injury was caused, in whole or in part, by fault or negligence on the part of the railroad, or through negligence in failing to furnish a reasonably safe place or equipment for work.
Under the Federal Safety Appliance Act railroads are responsible without proof of negligence for injuries caused by their failure to furnish automatic couplers, secure grabirons, ladders and steps, and efficient hand brakes and air brakes. Under the Federal Boiler Inspection Act railroads are responsible without proof of negligence for injuries caused by their failure to provide locomotives which are in proper condition and safe to operate.
Under FELA, rail workers are entitled, if they choose, to go to court and have a jury decide whether they are entitled to compensation and, if so, how much. In case of injury caused in whole or in part by railroad fault or negligence, workers are entitled to compensation for past and future wage losses, pain and suffering, and medical expense. In case of death caused in whole or in part by the railroad's fault or negligence, the worker's family members may be entitled to compensation for their financial losses, loss of services of the deceased, and for any conscious pain and suffering of the deceased.
Fault or negligence on the part of the worker does not entirely defeat the claim, but under FELA damages are reduced in the proportion that the fault of the worker bears to the total fault of the railroad and worker combined. In cases of injuries caused by a railroad's violation of the Safety Appliance Act or Boiler Inspection Act, fault or negligence on the part of the worker does not reduce the amount of compensation.
Workers usually have the choice of the court and the place to sue. The Statute of Limitations requires that you settle your claim or file suit against the railroad within three years from the date of your accident. If you fail to do so, your claim may be barred forever. Claims based on hearing loss, or occupational disease, or injuries due to substances, such as asbestos, may present complex questions because you cannot identify the exact date of injury or the date from which to compute the statue of limitations. In reference to occupational diseases such as hearing loss, etc., three years runs from the date you know, or should have known in the exercise of ordinary care, that you have an impairment and the probable cause of that impairment. However, you should not let the three-year limitation get close before seeking advice from Designated Legal Counsel.
When workers are represented by competent counsel, and their cases are thoroughly prepared for trial, the vast majority are settled fairly before going to trial.